World Oceans Day, Capitol Hill Oceans Week, and National Oceans Month
by Caroline Schwaner -- June 25th, 2015
The oceans drive life on Earth. The perpetual cycle of erosion and deposition has shaped our planet and some theorize that life began in the oceans, or rather the primordial soup. Oceans influence climate, produce a vast amount of the oxygen we breathe, contain promising sources of medicine, provide food, and are an important part of many cultures. Today, the oceans face threats of pollution, development, tourism, unsustainable fishing, shipping, ocean acidification, invasive species, oil spills, climate change etc. My work in DC falls under the umbrella of One Ocean, One Health: the idea that human health, ocean health, and marine organism health are all inextricably linked.
Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet was the theme of World Oceans Day (June 8), emphasizing the fact that ocean health is integral to human health. The Capitol Hill Oceans Week (CHOW) conference began the following day at the Newseum and brought together ocean advocates, politicians, scientists, NGOs, academia, government officials, private sector, and energy executives. I attended the conference as part of my Stanback Internship with Friends of the Earth., where I work on the Ocean and Vessels team. As part of my internship, I have been collecting data for the 2015 Cruise Ship Report Card. The report card compares the environmental footprints of 16 major cruise lines and 167 cruise ships. It grades the on four environmental criteria: sewage treatment, air pollution reduction, water quality compliance, and transparency. CHOW was really exciting because the issues of maritime shipping and oceangoing vessels played a central role in many of the discussions. During a panel about the potential to collaborate with Cuba on marine conservation issues, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse told an anecdote to express his concerns about tourists flocking to Cuban shores (it had been mentioned that cruise ships are starting to inundate Cuban beaches with tourists). Whitehouse asked the mayor of Monroe County, while on a climate tour, “How’s the snorkeling and scuba diving off the Keys?” She replied “It’s wonderful unless you were here 10 years ago.” In Cuba, it’s not wonderful unless you were here ten years ago because it is still wonderful now.
A somewhat unsettling moment during the energy panel occurred when the moderator asked “What insurances can you offer?” (in reference to Arctic drilling). The answer: “No such thing as risk-free activity, but this is an area where geology won’t have a catastrophic spill that people picture.” I stared at the panel incredulously, how can they think cleaning up oil in icy water will not be an issue? The oil spill in California by Plains All American Pipeline, did nothing to dissuade their optimism of the safety of drilling in the Arctic.
I’m a huge Harrison Ford fan. Some people think my dad looks like him (although I think it is more of a mixture between Harrison Ford and President George W. Bush). Harrison Ford narrated a short video for Conservation International, where I’ll be working in Ecuador, about treating the oceans with respect. I think it perfectly summarizes the theme of World Oceans Day. “If nature isn’t kept healthy, humans won’t survive.”
In the words of Mr. Ray from Finding Nemo “Oh, seaweed is cool. Seaweed is fun. It makes its food with the rays of the sun…” Seagrasses and other coastal ecosystems provide a plethora of ecological services including: providing primary nursery habitat for many species of fish, crustaceans, birds, and marine mammals, offering storm protection, providing a barrier to coastal erosion, and sequestering carbon. Blue carbon refers to the carbon found in coastal systems, especially in mangroves, seagrasses, and salt marshes. Mangrove forests play an important role in the mitigation of climate change and help maintain healthy coastal communities, healthy oceans, and healthy ecosystems. Creating our Blue Carbon Science Toolkit will help the local communities in the conglomeration of countries working with us (Abu Dhabi, Ecuador, Madagascar, Mozambique, Indonesia, Kenya). The toolkit aligns with the GEF Blue Forests Projects goal: “the development of tools and policies for global, regional and national ecosystem management and of possible financial instruments to maintain and enhance carbon storage and sequestration in coastal ecosystems”.
As National Oceans Month draws to an end, it reminds me of why I love oceans so much. I love sea turtles, fishing, boating, the beach, the Florida Keys, and scuba diving. I can’t wait to go to Guayaquil, Ecuador, and help the local communities by creating our Blue Carbon Science Toolkit. Pacific Ocean here I come!